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Sturgeon Week Features

Fishing WisconsinWinnebago System sturgeon spearing 2016

Big fish to date

Daniel Bloesl registered this 77.0”, 147.9 pound F4 female sturgeon at Indian Point. It was the largest fish harvested during the 2016 season.

It's over - Sunday, February 28

The 2016 sturgeon spear fishery on the Winnebago System is now officially over with a total harvest of 703 fish (396 from Lake Winnebago and 307 from the Upriver Lakes).   I was expecting a decrease in harvest today as many spearers pulled their shacks yesterday. That was indeed the case as only 8 fish were registered today.  The largest fish was Mitchell Schroeder’s 76.5”, 93.0 pounder registered at Stockbridge Harbor

I will be drafting some summaries of this season in the coming weeks, but I wanted to provide a couple of preliminary comparisons.  First, we have fairly comprehensive harvest data from Lake Winnebago dating back to the 1941 season (except 1944 and 1945), which in essence is 74 years of harvest data.   This seasons harvest of 396 fish from Lake Winnebago is the 55th largest.  Additionally, there were 19 fish harvested that were 100 pounds or larger (8 from Lake Winnebago and 11 from the Upriver Lakes).  This equates to 2.0% of the harvest from Lake Winnebago and 3.6% of the Upriver Lakes.  The percentage of 100+ pound fish actually increased in the harvest on the Upriver lakes, but remained steady on Lake Winnebago.  This difference is likely attributable to the difference in the predominate diet items (gizzard shad on the Upriver Lakes compared to lake fly larvae on Lake Winnebago).  We will have to wait until the data are entered from this season to see how much condition changed from last year, but visually it appeared that the fish were in better condition this season. 

I was asked to summarize this season by a few reporters today.  Overall, I think that this season went as we would have predicted.  Water clarity conditions were not ideal and I was predicting a 16-day season on Lake Winnebago.  However, after reflecting further I think that this season was a success given the conditions.  The lakes were still open in early January and there was concern of whether there would even be a season.  Luckily we did get some cold weather to make ice, but then the water was extremely dirty at time of ice formation.  I heard numerous reports of water so dirty that you could hardly see the bottom of the ice in some areas.  However, clarity improved to about 9-10’ on Lake Winnebago and 7’ on the Upriver Lakes in around a month.  So it was a blessing in some ways to just have a season, much less to have a system-wide harvest of >700 fish.  Further, the 2016 harvest may have been below average, but the season provided another opportunity for spearers to renew traditions and make memories of another spearing season.  The best success story is that there doesn’t appear to have been any real safety issues during the season, so everyone was able to pursue their fish safely.  I’m signing off now for at least the next few days until I have more information to send out, but thank you to everyone for making  the 2016 sturgeon spear fishery another safe and successful season!       


---- Ryan Koenigs, Winnebago sturgeon biologist 

Lake Winnebago system sturgeon spearing regulations 2016

The 2016 Lake Winnebago System Sturgeon Spearing Regulations [PDF]

2016 Lake Winnebago - February 28 - Season closed

Daily harvest Season harvest Harvest cap
Juvenile females 1 52 344
Adult females 2 155 855
Males 5 189 976
Totals 8 396 -

2016 Upriver Lakes - February 19 - Season closed

Daily harvest Season harvest Harvest cap
Juvenile females 1 32 86
Adult females 5 94 95
Males 11 181 244
Totals 17 307 -

2016 Winnebago system sturgeon season summary report

2016 Sturgeon spearing season summary - February 28 [PDF]

2016 Winnebago system sturgeon vignettes

Sturgeon shanty rentals

If you or someone you know rents shanties for the spearing season on Lake Winnebago and/or the Upriver Lakes, please send the contact information to Ryan Koenigs. Shanty rental information is very popular (and helpful) to first-time sturgeon spearers.

Sturgeon license sales for 2016 season

A record 13,674 licenses were sold for the 2016 sturgeon spearing season on the Winnebago System (13,190 licenses for Lake Winnebago; 484 licenses for Upriver Lakes).  License sales this year were a 4.1% increase over the 2015 season and a 15.6% increase over the 2014 season.  The overall increase in effort is attributable to the overall spearing success of last two spearing seasons where spearers benefited from strong ice conditions and clear water.  The spear fishery on the Upriver Lakes continues to receive a lot of interest with 5,981 people applying for a chance to spear the Upriver Lakes.

History of the Upriver Lakes sturgeon spear fishery and trends in the modern era

More information about the history of the Upriver Lakes spear fishery can be viewed in the document History of the Upriver Lakes Sturgeon Spear Fishery and Trends in the Modern Era. [PDF]

2015 sturgeon spearing season summaries

Sturgeon spearing culture

The ice-fishing season for lake sturgeon is more about getting together and fishing together than harvesting a lunker.

Sturgeon guard

There are two critical time periods for collecting data from our sturgeon population, the annual spearing season and spring spawning assessments.  Each year thousands of lake sturgeon migrate up the tributaries of the Winnebago System (Wolf, upper Fox, Embarrass and Little Wolf Rivers most notably) to spawn. The sturgeon spawn along rocky shorelines on outside river bends and literally spawn at your feet.  This provides a great opportunity to view sturgeon spawning in the wild, which is an experience not available anywhere else in North America.  However, poaching has historically been a concern given the vulnerability of these majestic fish during spawning.  The Sturgeon Guard program was implemented to curtail the illegal activity and protect these fish during spawning periods.  At first, law enforcement officers would monitor known spawning sites, but it was difficult for the warden staff to cover all of the known spawning areas with a limited work force.  The Sturgeon Guard program then went public and the rest is history.  The general public can now sign up for 12-hour shifts to watch sturgeon spawn and protect the fish from harassment and other illegal activity.  There are hundreds of folks who sign up every year for this opportunity, and this really is an example of a successful collaboration between the community and the DNR that has helped the population significantly increase!  As the spearing season draws near the end, I thought it would be beneficial to highlight a potential next opportunity for folks interested in sturgeon and that opportunity is volunteering through the Sturgeon Guard program.

Contact information
For more information, please contact:
Karl Scheidegger
Fisheries biologist
Last revised: Sunday February 28 2016